Friday, December 30, 2011


Jenny Haines, 30.12.11

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald’s National Times Section on the 22nd December 2011, Robert Manne, stated his opinion that the Left Got it Wrong on Boat People. Manne notes the current stalemate between the political parties in Parliament and does not resile from his opposition to John Howard’s Pacific Solution cruelties, but he criticises the Left for not recognising the efficiency of the Pacific Solution in reducing the numbers of refugees arriving by boat. No reference is given for the figures that he quotes on asylum seekers arriving by boat between 2002 and 2008. But how can you have it both ways – if you are horrified by the cruelties of the Pacitic Solution, you can’t then use that Solution to justify the reduction in numbers arriving by boat. And it may be useful for Robert Manne to take a look at the following figures:

Year Migration program Resettled refugees % of migration program

2000–2001 80 610 3 997 5.0%
2001–2002 93 080 4 160 4.5%
2002–2003 108 070 4 376 4.0%
2003–2004 114 360 4 134 3.6%
2004–2005 120 060 5 511 4.6%
2006–2007 148 200 6 003 4.1%
2007–2008 158 630 6 004 3.8%
2008–2009 171 318 6 499 3.8%
2009–2010 168 623 6 003 3.6%
2010–2011 (planned) 168 700 5 998 3.6%

Sources: DIAC advice; Population flows: immigration aspects 2008–09, source data, chapter 4, 2010; and DIAC annual reports

As a member of the Labor Party and a proud member of the Left, I have always admired Robert Manne's intellect and there comes a time in every movement where people change their views. The pain of the refugee issue can induce great shifts of opinion.

I do not subscribe to the view that current people smugglers are akin to Oskar Schindler. There is no doubt that crime syndicates operate in the business world of people smuggling and that those criminal elements should be dealt with by the processes of criminal investigation forces around the world, including Australia. But people smuggling is a difficult business that draws into its whirlpool those who are refugees themselves, Indonesian fishermen who have been driven out of business by Australia’s policing of their former fishing grounds, and opportunists. These latter people are often not fully aware or choose not to be aware of the criminal structure of the enterprise they are involved in, but are hoping to either make some money, or get some family to a safe haven through their service on the boats. If we are serious about stopping refugee deaths on the sea, then bring people who are refugees from Indonesia by plane or safe boat. It is a very simple solution. No sending them back to Malaysia with all its human rights problems, No Nauru or Manus Island. The problem here is the politicians on both sides won't do this. They are all too afraid of voters in marginal seats and focus group outcomes.

The great shift in Manne’s opinion, is his conversion to offshore processing. Manne suggests in his article there are two solutions in the form of offshore processing – the Malaysia Solution which he appears to reject because it provides for 800 refugees being returned to Malaysia to an uncertain future or the re-opening of Nauru and Manus Island, but this time with “decent, health, accommodation, and education facilities.” .Given current government policy and practice on both sides of politics, of contracting out detention facilities to questionable international corporations, there does not seem to be any guarantees that facilties on faraway islands would meet these requirements.
Manne goes on to admit that

“The obvious problem with such an offshore processing camp is that it might not succeed in its deterrent purpose. One solution here is to nominate in advance the number of those found to be refugees that Australia will accept each year from the camp, and to admit that number on the basis of date of arrival. The likelihood of a long wait should act as a powerful deterrent.”

But who goes to Nauru and Manus Island - those who arrive by boat and plane, given the government’s recent commitment to process both groups in the same way? Or is Manne suggesting some regional solution where the Australian Government brings refugees from Indonesia to Nauru and Manus Island by plane or safe boat, thereby bypassing the need for them to get on people smugglers boats to get to Australia? If he is suggesting that refugees who land on Australian soil be sent back to Nauru and Manus Island , Australia is in breach of the Refugee Convention. Given his concerns about the dangers of refugees sailing to Australia by dangerous boat journey, is he suggesting that we continue to allow that to happen, and then send these people to Nauru or Manus Island where they linger in an Australian created queue based on their date of arrival ? If he is suggesting the latter, there is a moral problem in his stated views. They seem to contradict.

Robert Manne goes on to suggest that once Nauru and Manus Island are re-opened, mandatory detention could be abolished. We don’t need the re-opening of Nauru and Manus Island to abolish mandatory detention. He then agrees with the current Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen that the annual refugee intake in Australia could be increased to 20,000. Minister Bowen will increase the annual intake on the condition that the Opposition agrees to the Malaysia Solution. Robert Manne agrees that the refugee intake could be increased on the basis that Nauru and Manus Island are re-opened. We don’t need the Malaysia Solution or the reopening of Nauru and Manus Island to increase the annual intake of refugees. Given the hundreds of thousands being accepted annually by European countries, an increase to 20,000 in Australia is a drop in the ocean. What we need in this country is a government that is prepared to act courageously and humanely, whatever the uneducated portions of the voting public think, but what we have is a government pandering to the perceptions of voters in marginal seats, and participants in focus groups. Until we have more education of these people about the realities of life for refugees and asylum seekers, there will never be a fair go for refugees and asylum seekers, in a country that once prided itself on being the land of the fair go for all.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


Labor and Coalition in 'unholy alliance' on refugees

Stefanie Balogh

From: The Australian December 24, 2011

REFUGEE advocates have accused Labor and the Coalition of entering an "unholy alliance" on offshore processing, expressing dismay that the Pacific Solution-era island of Nauru has been resurrected as a processing option for asylum-seekers.

Labor for Refugees co-convener Linda Scott said the group was "concerned" about the negotiations between the government and opposition to break the border protection impasse.

She said the government's offer to reopen the Nauru processing centre in return for support to pass legislation to shield the Malaysian Solution from any further High Court challenge was "ostensibly a Liberal Party policy".

"Labor for Refugees clearly continues its opposition to any offshore processing, although we are especially concerned about options concerning places like Nauru which we know have a long history of problematic treatment of asylum-seekers," she said.

The ALP's national platform, adopted this month, prohibited any reintroduction of temporary protection visas, Ms Scott said.

...She also said the platform included caveats designed to ensure Australia upheld its international obligations and protected asylum-seekers. "We would certainly work hard to make sure the government kept those commitments," she said.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said: "We're pretty disgusted that the Labor Party is trying to establish an unholy alliance with the Coalition to reintroduce third-country processing.

"At least at Christmas Island people who are processed at Christmas Island come to Australia. But if there is a deal with the Coalition, it will give the Labor Party the capacity to turn people away from Australia," he said. "And that is why nothing good whatsoever can come out of the discussions."

Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said she greeted Labor's decision to reverse course on Nauru "with despair".

"What is going to happen to these people? Are we going to dump them in Nauru in conditions that are so inhospitable that the Australian government hopes the message will go back to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan 'don't come because the living conditions are appalling'?" she said. "It didn't work last time and it's not going to work this time."

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Labor's decision to embrace Nauru was a "very sad moment".

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Don't stoop to stupid policy over boat tragedy

Aloysious Mowe

December 19, 2011

Eureka Street

Almost a year to the day when a boat sank off Christmas Island with horrendous loss of life, yet another asylum seeker tragedy, with an even higher death toll, has occurred. Up to 150 people bound for Australia may have died in the seas off East Java on Saturday.

The familiar refrains of 'Stop the boats', or more elegant variations thereof, inevitably followed.

The Coalition's policy of towing boats back to Indonesia is both immoral and stupid. It puts the lives of asylum seekers at further risk and undermines the professionalism and morale of the Australian Navy. The other oft-bruited policy, off-shore processing, strikes at the heart of the asylum system.

People have a right to seek asylum, and Australia is a signatory to the Refugee Convention which clearly states that those who seek asylum and arrive in a country's territory by irregular means should not be penalised. Let us be clear: off-shore processing puts Australia in breach of its international obligations, and makes laughable the claim that Australia is a nation of laws.

Of course we want people to stop making the hazardous boat journey to Christmas Island, but tow-backs and off-shore processing are blunt instruments that avoid the complexity of the issue.

Asylum seekers who attempt the boat journey to Australia often make their way to Indonesia via Malaysia, or arrive in Indonesia directly from their countries of origin before making the decision to get on a boat. Many try to get their refugee status determined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in these countries, but the process is long drawn-out, seen to lack transparency, and has no independent review mechanism.

UNHCR is also in a bind: even if it recognises the refugee status of asylum seekers, there are not enough resettlement places for these refugees to take up. While they languish in Malaysia or Indonesia, they are unable to work legally, cannot get an education, face harassment from the authorities, and are readily exploited by unscrupulous employers who know they have few protections.

Senator Doug Cameron's cogent and insightful statement in reaction to Saturday's tragedy bears repeating:

“It doesn't matter what deterrent you put in place, if they are fleeing for their lives, if they don't have a future in the country they're in, then they will take these chances. You can't place enough impediments in the way of asylum seekers who are fleeing death or torture”.

This is a regional problem and requires a regional solution. Australia must engage with the countries through which pass the flows of irregular migrants, explore with them ways to increase the protection space for asylum seekers and refugees in their territories, and share in the cost, so that people are not driven by poor living conditions and lack of legal protection to make desperate journeys.

It should also engage in serious research to find out why people make onward journeys from the countries of first asylum such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

On a recent visit to Indonesia, I met many asylum seekers and refugees. For them, coming to Australia was not always an inevitability, but a solution to a problem that seemed to have no other solutions: where can they be safe, and lead normal lives?

For a young man of 16, waiting two to three years in Indonesia for the refugee status determination and resettlement process to play itself out seems like a lifetime, especially when you cannot get an education and have no other meaningful activities while you wait. Getting on a boat seems like the better option, and the young cannot weigh the risks because they feel they are indestructible.

Many have now learnt, to their cost, that this is not the case.


Aloysious Mowe is Director of Jesuit Refugee Service.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Questions surround latest asylum seeker boat disaster

Tony Kevin December 18, 2011

Eureka Street

Reports started coming in on Sunday about another major boat disaster en route to Christmas Island. Questions surround this latest tragedy, ten years after SIEV X and one year after the SIEV 221 shipwreck.

BBC News Asia reported the sinking location as about 90km out to sea. ABC News gave the same location. BBC reported at least 250 people were on board. Some reports put the number as high as 380.

The vessel appeared to have been carrying more than twice its capacity. It 'sank Saturday evening and the national search and rescue team [BASARNAS] has already moved out to sea to start the search', rescue team member Brian Gauthier told Indonesian news agency Antara. Gauthier's position is unstated: he may be an Australian Maritime Safety Authority secondment to BASARNAS (AMSA has extensive rescue at sea training-type cooperation underway).

Extreme weather caused reduced visibility. An Afghan survivor told Antara the ship rocked violently, triggering panic among the tightly packed passengers. This made the boat even more unstable and it sank. He and others clung to wreckage and were rescued by local fishermen. He estimated more than 40 children were on the boat.

This account recalls the details of SIEV X: a grossly overloaded, top-heavy boat capsizes after rocking violently in extreme weather; a few survivors are later rescued by local fishermen.

ABC News and Antara sources offer more detail as to the location of these events. Gauthier told Antara some of the rescued are in Prigi in eastern Java, around 30km from where the boat sank. Some survivors are in Trenggalek, a town about 20km further inland. Both places are around 200km east of Jogyakarta, in the Java southern coastal region (and about 350km east of Cilicap, where another sinking took place a few weeks ago).

Antara says the sinking location 'is estimated to [be] within 20-30 miles from the boundary waters Prigi Coast'. This would seem to locate the sinking in international waters outside the Indonesian contiguous zone, about 30km or more south of Prigi Beach.

Christmas Island — about 700km away in a WSW direction — was the most likely destination from this area. But this is an unusually long route, about twice as long as the direct route south from the Sunda Strait/Panaitan Island area. If the boat started from east of Prigi, its route towards Christmas Island would be diagonal to the coast — which could indeed put its sinking location about 30km from the coast after 90km travelling.

There are more parallels here with SIEV X: a circuitous route from a long way off, yet a sinking location finally not far outside Indonesian contiguous waters, far from Australian waters, and in the Indonesian search and rescue zone; and plausibly accessible to Indonesian fishing boat rescue.

The circumstances raise similar intelligence-related questions as those raised by SIEV X. How did fishing boats find survivors? How did anyone know where the boat was? Were there tracking devices on board? Were there intercepted distress messages from passengers using GPS-reading satellite phones, to relatives, to Indonesia, or to 000 in Australia? Did AFP inform AMSA of any distress message and location? Did AMSA inform BASARNAS?
This overloaded boat must have been at sea at least 15 hours to have got 90km from its embarkation point. Were there any monitored pre-embarkation phonecalls by passengers to family members (as there usually are these days)? Would the Australian border protection intelligence system have picked up such messages? What did they do with them, and when?

The events have a similar smell to them as SIEV X: of a possible Indonesian police (INP) illegal disruption operation, from a remote location, highly profitable and sending a terrible deterrent message to others.

As former AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty testified in the Senate CMI inquiry in 2002, 'though the AFP would never ask the INP to do anything illegal, once they have asked the INP to do anything to disrupt the movement of people smugglers, the AFP has to leave it in the INP's hands as to how they do it. Recent Senate Estimates Committee testimony by Customs suggests nothing much has changed.'

As with SIEV X, the Australian border protection system is far from the scene. And with all intelligence information being withheld on national security grounds, we may never know how this latest tragedy happened — as with SIEV X, SIEV 221 and the lost boats in 2009 and 2010.

Australian politicians and officials will blame the easy target we have been taught to hate: people smugglers. The tragedy will be exploited by both sides of politics. Gillard will use it to pressure Abbott to pass her legislation to enable Malaysian offshore processing. Abbott will use it to pressure her for Navy towback of boats, and for Nauru — as SIEV X was exploited by Howard to force Indonesia to accede to Australian towbacks.

It is an indictment of Australia's border protection system, including its secret intelligence-based parts, that such disasters go on happening, and that the Australian system continues to avoid admitting any degree of knowledge or accountability.

I will continue to research these issues, asking fact-based questions that the Australian Government would prefer not be asked. I do this because deaths of people at sea in these numbers are intolerable in any decent society that claims to conduct intelligence gathering on people smugglers, and people smuggling disruption operations in cooperation with the INP, by lawful means.

Tony Kevin is an author and former ambassador to Cambodia and Poland whose 2004 book A Certain Maritime Incident sparked debates about Australia's moral responsibilities on the high seas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011




Australia cannot evade its share of the responsibility for yesterday’s
tragic sinking of another asylum boat off Java, according to advocates
from the Refugee Action Coalition. The boat is believed to have been
carrying Afghan and Iranian refugees.

‘Australia’s push for Indonesia to detain asylum seekers and to
criminalize people smuggling directly leads to the kind of tragedy
we’ve seen yet again today,’ said Ian Rintoul, RAC spokesperson.

‘There’s nothing inherently dangerous about the passage from Indonesia
– if it’s in proper boats. If the government is worried about people
losing their lives at sea, they should decriminalize people-smuggling
so that the voyages can be planned in the open and seaworthy boats can
come here without having to sneak into Australian waters in secret.’

“But the policy of detaining asylum seekers in Indonesia means asylum
seekers risk imprisonment if they contact authorities if they are
concerned about the seaworthiness of any boat.
“The fact that Australia impounds and destroys the vessels that bring
asylum seekers here means boats used for are more likely to be
unseaworthy. The crossing from Indonesia is these boats’ last voyage.’

‘This time we tragically have hundreds of people likely to be dead.
‘No doubt we’ll hear a lot of hypocrisy from government and opposition
about the tragedy of lost lives. They’ll say the sinking shows
Australia has to deter people from undertaking boat trips. But talk of
stopping the boats only makes the situation worse.
‘It doesn’t matter how unsafe the boat is, refugees will try to get to
Australia because that is often the only place where they can be safe.

‘According to reports earlier this year, there were 1462 civilian
deaths in Afghanistan in the first half of 2011 alone – a 15%
increase. May this year was the deadliest month of the war for
civilians since 2007. It’s no surprise that people are willing to risk
their lives on the trip to Australia.’

‘Sending people to Nauru or Malaysia will make no difference. People
trying to escape war and persecution in Afghanistan or Iran are still
going to try and come here because they have no other option. And any
refugees who are prevented from coming to Australia by government
policies will just undertake other dangerous journeys to Europe or
America, with just as much risk to their lives.’

‘Australia’s obligation is to welcome asylum seekers. We have
resettled a minuscule number of refugees from our region.

‘If the government and opposition really had a concern for asylum
seekers’ lives they would institute the humane refugee policy
Australia has needed for so long. They’d massively increase our
refugee intake from the region, they’d end mandatory detention,
decriminalize people-smuggling, remove offshore processing as a policy
option, and process and resettle refugees from Indonesia.’

More information: Ian Rintoul, 0417 275 713



Stay tuned for the Gillard blames Abbott and Abbott blames Gillard show.

Jenny Haines

Huge toll as overcrowded asylum ship sinks

Ali Kotarumalos, SMH.

December 18, 2011 - 9:27AM

Read later.A wooden ship suspected to be heading to Australia and carrying more than 200 asylum seekers, many of them from the Middle East, has sunk off Indonesia's main island of Java, local media report.

So far only 33 people have been rescued.

Police blamed the Saturday accident on overloading, telling the official news agency Antara that the vessel appeared to have been carrying more than twice its capacity.

Advertisement: Story continues below One of the survivors, Esmat Adine, told Antara the ship started rocking from side to side, triggering widespread panic.

Because people were so tightly packed, they had no where to go, said the 24-year-old Afghan migrant.

"That made the boat even more unstable and eventually it sank," he said.

Adine said that he and others survived by clinging to parts of the broken vessel until they were picked up by local fishermen.

He estimated that more than 40 children were on the ship. It was not immediately clear if any were rescued.

Indonesia, a sprawling archipelagic nation of 240 million people, has more than 18,000 islands and thousands of kilometres of unpatrolled coastline, making it a key transit point for smuggling migrants.

Those on board Saturday - apparently heading to Australia - were from Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

The private television station Metro TV reported that 33 people had been found alive and that perhaps 215 others were still missing.

Last month a ship carrying about 70 asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan capsized off the southern coast of Central Java; at least eight people died.


Read more:

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Asylum seeker policy betrays Labor's true believers

Robin Rothfield

SMH, December 15, 2011 - 6:48AM

You may have missed it, but the Labor Party made history last week by passing a policy to support, for the first time, the offshore processing of asylum seekers.

But for card-carrying Labor supporters in particular, and fair-minded Australians in general, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

The sweetener - such as it is - was an increase in annual visas for humanitarian refugees to 20,000 a year, on condition of a reduction in the number of boat arrivals.

This increase should be unconditional and not entwined in a quid pro quo formula that turns persecuted and vulnerable human beings into cold statistics as the government bids to make offshore processing Australia's new reality.

Ultimately, offshore processing of asylum seekers – during which some victims may have to wait as long as nine years in detention – will not stop the boats. We now have the harshest and cruellest policy in Australia's history, with more than a third of detainees having been incarcerated for more than a year and many committing acts of self-harm.

Labor's new policy is thus nothing but a political capitulation to the politics of fear and smear waged by Tony Abbott and his opposition.
In his speech to the national conference in Sydney, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Labor's new refugee policy was ''compassionate'' and ''pro-refugee'', a balance between a ''soft heart and a hard head''.

He is either delusional or in denial. For how else to read this statement after his performance at the conference. Asked to justify the jailing of Indonesian villagers coerced into crewing boats bound for Australia – some of whom are teenagers and don't even know they are engaging in people smuggling – he simply deferred the issue to the Attorney-General. This was either politics at its cynical best or the best cop out in the book.

Further pressed as to whether it is justifiable to sentence an asylum seeker to life in detention when they have committed no crime, he responded that the High Court had ruled that indefinite detention of asylum seekers is legal. A sidestep to be sure, but hardly outright opposition to such draconian measures.

Worse, arguably, was his cold-hearted retort about the government's right to repatriate failed asylum seekers even when there is a risk of death as the Taliban have made brutally explicit in Afghanistan.
Bowen and the government's spin-masters have tried to sell the public the fiction that its policy, while maintaining a balance between humanitarianism and border security, is a deterrent for people smugglers.

But in reality it smacks of political expediency because the government knows that the Malaysian solution is stillborn – rejected by the judiciary and deadlocked in the legislature.

It may be true to argue that, by dint of a High Court ruling and a hung parliament, Labor is processing refugees on Australian soil and in a more humane manner.

But this is neither morally sustainable nor politically defensible. It's nothing but a false sense of security. For the first time in its history Labor's official policy is now to promote offshore processing as the solution.

And to add insult to injury, the rank-and-file party members were denied the right to a conscience vote on this issue even though they were granted it for the hot-button issue of gay marriage.

Indeed, it seemed Bowen was acutely aware it would be a close-fought battle because two prominent members of the Right faction, including refugee advocate Shane Prince, were denied permission to speak at National Conference.

Nevertheless, Labor For Refugees, with the backing of the Left faction, did manage to secure policy reforms that may improve the lives of asylum seekers processed in Australia. Labor has abandoned the policy of treating those who arrive by boat more harshly than those who arrive by air.
Mercifully, Labor has also committed to releasing children and, where possible, their families from detention centres. And for asylum seekers detained while their health, identity and security issues are checked, Labor will strive to ensure that detention is for a maximum of 90 days.
But striving is not good enough. They should be released within 90 days unless there is evidence of a security risk endorsed by a judge.

Nevertheless, these specific reforms pale into insignificance compared with the government's overarching new policy. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are now jostling in their race to the bottom on this critical issue. Former prime minister John Howard must be bemused at how the politics of panic he manipulated so expertly are edging Labor closer and closer to Howard-era policies.

As David Marr writes in his new book, Panic: ''Hearts are hardened. Terrible things are done in the name of protecting the nation. It is not the first wave of boats and won't be the last, but the politics are more rancorous than ever.''

Ordinary Australians should be ashamed that our government supports abdicating our responsibility to a third party. Australians need to deal humanely with refugees on Australian soil without compromising border protection.

By backing offshore processing, Labor has crossed the idiomatic Rubicon. It's a subtle but significant shift – one that alters the party's DNA. In short, Labor has abandoned defending human rights in favour of trading the human rights of asylum seekers with other countries.

Not in my name.

Robin Rothfield is secretary of Labor for Refugees (Victoria).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Refugee inquiry to tackle backlog

Kirsty Needham

December 13, 2011
THE former attorney-general Michael Lavarch will conduct an independent review of the refugee and migration tribunals amid a backlog of cases and allegations that the process is being abused.

The matter has become urgent as thousands more asylum seekers are set to be funnelled into the Refugee Review Tribunal from early next year, as the separate system for assessing boat arrivals is scrapped.

An internal memo announcing Professor Lavarch's appointment was circulated within the Immigration Department yesterday, pointing to a surge in overseas students appealing visa knock-backs and sponsored family fighting to stay in Australia as two reasons for the backlog.

Advertisement: Story continues below ''The increasing delays result in uncertainty for applicants and provide an incentive for others to misuse the review process to extend their stay in Australia,'' the memo said.

In November, less than half of Refugee Review Tribunal cases (47 per cent) had been completed within the 90-day standard, while a third of Migration Review Tribunal cases were more than a year old.

The principal member of the tribunals, Denis O'Brien, had complained in the tribunals' annual report it would be a ''significant challenge'' for them to meet targets this year.

The migration tribunal deals with business, bridging visa and student visa refusals. Most cases lodged with the refugee tribunal - which only deals with plane arrivals - were from China, Fiji and India. There was a 31 per cent leap in new cases before the refugee tribunal and a 24 per cent increase in new cases before the migration tribunal last year.

Professor Lavarch is expected to report by the end of January 2012. The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said: ''This independent review will identify what changes could be made to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of both the MRT and RRT.''

The refugee tribunal lost members last year to the boat arrival system, which has been plagued by its own difficulties.

Two out of three visa refusals handed out by the boat system have later been overturned in the Federal Magistrates Court on the grounds of lack of fairness.

The court has also ruled that a key reviewer assessing boat arrivals appeared to be biased against Afghan Hazaras and has injuncted the Immigration Department from using the reviewer's decision.

Ads by Google

Read more:

Sunday, November 27, 2011





The three Faili Kurd asylum seekers who have had their lips stitched
together since last Monday are continuing their protest and have now
declared a hunger strike.

On Saturday, 26 November, the three told the Immigration department
and the Red Cross that they would now be on hunger strike.

Until Saturday, they had been taking some sweet tea and juice.

At least one other Faili Kurd in the Darwin detention centre has been
on hunger strike for over a week. Two other Faili Kurds in Curtin were
hospitalised last week after self harm incidents.

The Immigration department already offered to move them to another
detention centre if they unstitched their lips, but the protesters
have rejected that as not offering them any solution. Yesterday
(Saturday), the department offered to negotiate their return if they
unstitched their lips but said that the arrangements would take them
at least ten months.

“The offer to return in unbelievable,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson
for the Refugee Action Coalition, “At least one of the Kurds applied
to be returned five months ago, but they were told then that as they
are stateless, the government could not send them anywhere.

“The government knows it is unable to send them anywhere, but is
keeping them in indefinite detention

“An urgent review of all the stateless asylum seeker cases is needed.
It is estimated that there are around 600 stateless asylum seekers
presently in immigration detention. They should be released. We don’t
want any more Peter Kasims,” said Rintoul.

Peter Kasim, was a stateless asylum seeker, that the Howard government
kept in detention for seven years (until 2005), although he applied
for residency to 80 countries.

“The bridging visas announced recently are not about to solve the
problems of long term detention. Three of the Kurds in Darwin have
been in detention between 17 and 21 months already. The Minister has
the power to release them, he should use it.”

For more information contact Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Monday, November 21, 2011


The Help That Michelle Beets Needed

By Jenny Haines

21.11.11, as published in New Matilda.

Changes in health services management meant that Michelle Beets was too involved with the hiring and firing of Walter Marsh, writes former general secretary of the NSW Nurses Association Jenny Haines

Michelle Beets was the Nursing Unit Manager of Emergency Department of Royal North Shore Hospital. On Tuesday 4 May 2010 she was violently and horribly murdered on the doorstep of her Chatswood home by a former employee, Walter Ciarin Marsh. He told his wife — who testified against him in court — that he murdered Beets because she had been instrumental in his employment being terminated at the hospital and because her poor references were preventing him from getting another job.

Marsh was found guilty by a jury last week. He will not like jail. A man who wanted control of his life such that he would kill in such a horrible way, a man who would terrorise his wife and her brother such that they were initially terrified to tell the police what they knew, this man is not going to like jail at all.

Having spent 34 years in the NSW health system, I have seen many changes in the way health services are managed. This have mostly involved the flattening of management structures, and the devolution of senior management tasks and responsibilities down the remaining administrative line to Nursing Unit Managers. These changes open many questions in my mind about the murder of Michelle Beets.

Why was Beets seen by Marsh as the person who was solely responsible for his employment? Why did he see her as the sole person who was blocking him getting future employment?

In times past, these employment tasks were managed by the Human Resources Departments of Area Health Services. The restructuring of health services and management roles means that these employment roles have been devolved to busy Nursing Unit Managers.

I can only imagine how busy and stressful Michelle’s life as a Nursing Unit Manager must have been. There would not have been a lot of spare time to manage all the details of employing new staff, and ending their employment when they left, or were dismissed — all without much needed support from the Human Resources Department. When Beets wanted Walter Marsh dismissed, why wasn’t his case handed over to Human Resources?

When police were finalising evidence against Marsh, reports emerged about problems with his registration as a nurse in the United States. A Nursing Unit Manager can look up a nurse’s registration status in Australia online easily. If there are problems with a nurse’s registration overseas, however, surely that responsibility should remain with the registering authorities? A busy Nursing Unit Manager should not be expected to contact the United States to follow up on the registration status of a job applicant.

If Marsh was a threat to Beets, and she knew it, and she had raised this with the hospital, what had been done by security services at the hospital to protect her? I have heard evidence from Michelle’s close friends that she had expressed concern for her safety. A nursing colleague who attended the interview with Beets in which she advised Marsh of his dismissal told the court that Beets was nervous about how he would take the news — but relieved after the interview was over because he was now out of the hospital.

No one could have anticipated what happened. But for a Nursing Unit Manager carrying such a heavy responsibility on behalf of the Area Health Service to be exposed to such risks, raises real questions about the the allocation of that responsibility.

All sorts of clever ideas have been introduced into the health system over the last 30 years to downsize departments, and to make them more cost efficient. Very rarely it seems, are questions raised about the occupational health and safety implications of these measures.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


SMH, 20.11.11

Tom Hyland.

Susan Douglas's expertise as a doctor and obstetrician is indisputable. As an assistant professor of family medicine and head of Canada's largest obstetrics department, she had no trouble securing a lecturing job at the Australian National University's medical school in 2006.

While she is qualified enough to teach Australia's next generation of doctors, she cannot get full registration to practise medicine here herself. Dr Douglas is one of hundreds of overseas-trained doctors - encouraged by the government to come to Australia to ease critical gaps in the healthcare system - who are stymied from practising medicine when they arrive.

Some foreign doctors give up and leave. Others, such as Pakistan-trained Nasir Mehmood Baig - who arrived in 2005 and has a wife and four children to support - drive taxis while navigating their way towards registration. Those who eventually have their qualifications recognised have to work for 10 years often in remote areas, shunned by domestically trained doctors if they want access to Medicare billing, without which they cannot make a living.

Advertisement: Story continues below Most had no idea of the obstacle course they would face when they answered the call to come to Australia to help plug holes created in the years after the Keating and Howard governments froze enrolments of medical students to contain the Medicare bill.

The registration system is so convoluted that MPs carrying out a federal parliamentary inquiry into ways of making it simpler without cutting standards have been left perplexed. The inquiry's chairman, Labor MP Steve Georganas, says the accreditation and registration process is a ''complex mishmash'' that does not work properly.

It is not as though Australia doesn't need foreign-trained doctors. Almost 40 per cent of Australia's 75,000 doctors trained overseas. About 68 per cent of them work in major cities.

Less than a third work in rural and remote areas but they make up almost half the medical workforce in those areas. In one-doctor towns, often they are the only physician.

Nobody denies the need to carefully check medical qualifications, and all agree a good standard of English is needed. ''Absolutely, they have to be thorough in verifying someone's credentials,'' Dr Douglas said. ''The problem is that the assessment we demand of foreign doctors is far greater than what we demand for our own practitioners.''

Registration processes were tightened, centralised and supposedly streamlined after the ''Dr Death'' scandal in which Queensland authorities failed to check the credentials of Jayant Patel, the surgeon recruited from the US and now serving seven years in jail for manslaughter and grievous bodily harm.

Commonwealth and state governments set up the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency in July last year to replace myriad state and professional boards. But the post-Patel reforms seem to have made things more complicated.

In June, a Senate committee inquiry into the new regulation agency, after hearing complaints of long delays, poor advice and lost paperwork, called on the agency to ''significantly improve its performance''. The same complaints have been made to the committee chaired by Mr Georganas.

The process is one of the most difficult to understand in the world, according to Rural Health Workforce Australia. Martina Stanley, director of a medical recruitment company, says other Western countries have complex and strict systems but ''we have the worst system for co-ordination'', with a reputation for ''causing frustration that makes us look ridiculous''.

Foreign doctors face a spaghetti bowl of red tape, involving multiple agencies. The Australian Medical Council checks and tests their credentials, the medical colleges govern specialists and the Medical Board of Australia registers them so they can practise. The regulation agency handles the paperwork. Gaining registration can entail more than a dozen processes.

Late last year, Queensland MPs from electorates reliant on foreign doctors and alarmed at what they saw as discrimination by regulators and medical colleges, demanded a parliamentary inquiry.

Nationals MP Bruce Scott talked of a system ''that has just gone mad''. Independent MP Bob Katter described the process as a disgrace. ''Without overseas-trained doctors, regional Australia could not function,'' he said.

In response, the federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, asked the House of Representatives committee on health and ageing to hold an inquiry. It will report early next year after receiving close to 200 submissions and holding 20 public hearings. It heard persistent complaints from doctors forced to do onerous language tests; of accrediting agencies not sharing information; of a lack of transparency; of shifting rules; and of a perception that the medical establishment is a closed shop protecting vested interests.

''It's clear the system is not working properly,'' Mr Georganas told The Sun-Herald. ''I don't think what we're talking about is discrimination but I think it's this stupid bureaucracy that has grown out of each different college and the Australian Medical Council. Every step of the way there's a separate bureaucracy. None of them talk to each other.''

He highlighted the case of Dr Douglas, now vice-president of the Australian Overseas Trained Doctors Association, who told the inquiry of a Kafkaesque ordeal with a ''dysfunctional, difficult and irrational bureaucracy''.

The Canadian is a native English speaker but to practise here she had to provide written proof of her language proficiency from her high school which closed decades ago.

She was forced to do the costly medical council accreditation process twice in two years and was confounded by more than one catch-22.

She had to obtain a fellowship with the college of general practitioners before she could register as a GP - but she could not get a fellowship until she was registered.

As processes dragged on, Dr Douglas said she ''fell into a state of deep depression''.

''It isn't that any one event in itself is particularly shocking,'' she wrote to the committee, ''it is the fact that the problems never seem to end and just go on and on, to the point where you literally feel like you are losing your mind.''

Australia's dependence on foreign doctors is self-made. The decision by first Labor and then Liberal federal governments in the 1990s to freeze local medical school enrolments was made amid predictions of an oversupply of doctors. But the freeze did not account for a growing population and the reluctance of Australian doctors to work in the bush. So doctors were recruited from overseas.

There was a catch. The Howard government barred doctors who entered the country after 1997 from billing under Medicare for 10 years unless they worked in areas of need, often in rural towns.

At the heart of the system are the Australian Medical Council and the Medical Board of Australia. Both are unapologetic, defending the need for strict standards to protect patient welfare.

The council's chief executive, Ian Frank, concedes the process can be complex, creating stress and frustration for doctors involved.

''Nevertheless,'' he told the committee, ''the assessment and registration of medical practitioners is a high-stakes process where individual failures, as evidenced by the Patel case in Queensland, can be very costly for the Australian community and lead to a loss of confidence in the regulatory processes … not to mention adverse clinical outcomes for individual patients.''

The chairwoman of the medical board, Joanna Flynn, said the process had to be stringent to ensure only qualified people were registered. She insisted the complaints did not reveal a systematic failure by the board and associated bodies.

''We try to make a good judgment call between the need to provide medical services to the community and the need to ensure that everybody is appropriately qualified,'' she said. ''I believe that most of the time we get that right.'' But Dr Flynn said more effort could be made in explaining the process. The board and the medical council were looking at ways of reducing duplication, possibly with an online repository of documents so doctors do not have to provide separate certificates to different agencies.

A central grievance of foreign doctors is the Medicare rule and their complaint is backed by major professional bodies. Former Australian Medical Association president Andrew Pesce said lifting the 10-year moratorium was the best way of supporting foreign doctors. He said the rule raised significant human rights issues, while allowing governments to avoid their responsibility to train enough local doctors and provide incentives for them to work in regional areas.

The system meant foreign doctors were conscripted to work in the bush, Dr Pesce said. Given the lack of support and the nature of rural practice, there ''could not have been a worse place'' to send doctors unfamiliar with Australia.

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia says overseas-trained doctors have prevented a catastrophic collapse in the medical workforce in rural and remote areas but it too wants the ''unconscionable'' 10-year moratorium phased out.

Ms Roxon said she did not want to pre-empt the inquiry's findings. In a written response to questions from The Sun-Herald, she appeared to rule out lifting the 10-year rule.

Overseas-trained doctors had ''proven to be a very effective way of improving workforce shortages in the areas of greatest need, which tend to be located in rural and regional Australia, and the government has no current plans to change this'', she said

Read more:

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Well done Ian Rintoul and Shane Prince!!

Kirsty Needham, SMH


THE federal government's plan to deport an Afghan asylum seeker by force for the first time has been stopped by the courts.

Afghan Hazara man Ismail Mirza Jan, 27, wept in the Sydney Federal Magistrates Court yesterday as a temporary injunction blocked his forced removal from Australia to Kabul.

The injunction, in place until a full court hearing, is the latest in a series of judicial curbs on the Gillard government's refugee policies. The High Court injuncted the removal of asylum seekers from Christmas Island to Malaysia on the eve of the first transfer, and later permanently blocked the Malaysia refugee swap.

Advertisement: Story continues below About two-thirds of rejected refugee claims from boat arrivals are being overturned in the Federal Magistrates Court because of a lack of procedural fairness.

''Federal Magistrate [Shenagh] Barnes granted our client an injunction, stopping our client departing tomorrow on the basis our client has an arguable case that he was denied natural justice in relation to a decision that it was reasonably practicable to remove him to Afghanistan,'' his lawyer George Newhouse said.

''It is a sound decision based on a universal principle of law which protects all Australians and those who come within our borders. Our client … is still living with the uncertainty that he may be removed in the future.''

A directions hearing for Mr Jan's case is set down for next month. A refugee activist, Ian Rintoul, said it was likely the case would not be heard until next year. It is believed that travel documents issued by the Afghan government will expire at the end of January.

Mr Jan fled Afghanistan a decade ago as a teenager and his family now live in Pakistan. He fears for his safety if returned to Afghanistan.

He arrived in Australia by plane in 2010, having spent years moving between European countries. His claim for refugee status was rejected by the Refugee Review Tribunal.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said: ''It's a fundamental part of our immigration system that if people are found not to be genuine refugees that they should be removed.

''People are only removed where their refugee claim has failed at multiple levels of assessment. This government is committed to a proper and robust assessment of asylum claims as a signatory to the Refugee Convention.''

The Afghanistan expert William Maley and Amnesty International have cautioned against deporting anyone to Afghanistan as the security situation in Kabul deteriorated.

A second legal front was opened in the Federal Court yesterday. The barrister Shane Prince commenced legal action seeking time to appeal an earlier court decision which had upheld the rejection of Mr Jan's refugee claim.

Although the Afghan government has issued travel documents, it has publicly indicated it is unhappy at the forced return of its nationals under a controversial agreement struck with the federal government.

As war against the Taliban continues, Afghans continue to be the largest group of asylum seekers worldwide, with the number of Afghans applying for refugee status leaping 20 per cent in the first half of this year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Asylum claims reached their highest level since 2002 in the most recent quarter measured by the UNHCR.

The Immigration Department had planned to take Mr Jan from the Villawood detention centre today and escort him by plane to Kabul, charging him $32,000 for his removal.

Read more:

Sunday, November 13, 2011



I hear the government and employers are backing away from a lockout of Victorian nurses because they have received legal advice that they would be liable for any adverse events during a lockout. But this is going to be a tough dispute and should be followed closely. Hopefully the health unions nationally are ready for this. The loss of the ratios in Victoria would set a benchmark for nurses nationally. We should be prepared to defend the ratios in Victoria by national action.

Jenny Haines

The Age

Kate Hagan, 12.11.11

ON THE job over the past couple of days, thousands of Victorian nurses have worn T-shirts emblazoned with the words ''respect our work''. It is the bottom line for many in their latest round of negotiations with the government over the enterprise agreement that governs their pay and conditions.

About 30,000 nurses are seeking an 18.5 per cent pay rise over the next three years and eight months. The Baillieu government is offering them 2.5 per cent. Any further pay rise, the government has said, will need to be offset by productivity gains.

Victoria's nurses are among the lowest paid in the country. But what they do have on their side are mandated nurse-patient ratios that ensure minimum staffing levels for different categories of patients. For a general surgical ward at a major metropolitan hospital, one nurse is rostered for every four patients during the day and one for every eight at night. Fewer nurses are rostered on for the same ward in a country hospital. And there are variations between wards - more nurses are needed for intensive care patients, and fewer for those undergoing rehabilitation after a spinal or brain injury.

Advertisement: Story continues below Nurses like ratios because they give some protection against overwhelming workloads. Several NSW nurses quit Albury hospital to work for less at Wodonga after Victoria introduced them in 2000 following a landmark decision in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

Other states have since adopted models that provide a minimum level of nursing care for patients, depending on their needs. But the government says those models are more flexible - and that only in Victoria are there fixed ratios that must be applied every minute of every day regardless of how busy a ward is, or how sick its patients.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister David Davis says the government supports ratios but wants ''local flexibility for staff allocations that provide more nurses at the busiest times and fewer nurses during quieter times''.

The state secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, Lisa Fitzpatrick, counters that there is already ''extraordinary flexibility'' in ratios, and that nurses are busier than ever. She says ratios are the reason that Victoria, unlike other states, does not have a nursing shortage. In other states, shortages have been used to make a case for lesser-trained health assistants. Both measures - more flexible ratios and the introduction of health assistants - are at the heart of ''productivity improvements'' proposed by the state government as part of its EBA negotiations with nurses. A leaked cabinet document this week revealed that the proposals, which are opposed by nurses, could save $104 million.

Austin Hospital chief executive Brendan Murphy argues that employing health assistants to perform personal care tasks such as feeding and bathing patients is common sense. His hospital has recently completed a two-year trial in which 30 health assistants were employed to work on acute wards, under the supervision of registered nurses. He says the feedback from nurses and patients has been overwhelmingly positive, and that assistants have been employed at the hospital permanently. ''What we're trying to do is supplement the nursing workforce where appropriate and use people to the best of their skills. We shouldn't be wasting our incredibly precious and well-trained nurses doing basic tasks.''

The model has been evaluated by consultants, in a report being considered by the government. That rings alarm bells for Fitzpatrick, who is adamant that health assistants - who have about 80 hours' clinical experience compared with the 1000 hours of a registered nurse - have no place on an acute ward. She recalls one nurse telling her about a health assistant who was having difficulty understanding that a patient listed as ''not for resuscitation'' wanted only pain relief and to die in peace. ''Many nurses would deal with that every day of their working life. But this health assistant couldn't accept that … The nurse had to spend three hours with her over the next few shifts trying to talk her through it.''

Fitzpatrick says ratios providing for a minimum number of registered nurses are vital for safeguarding patient care. She says hospital chief executives hate ratios because they lock up a portion of their budgets. ''Our [staffing] budget can't get hived off to pay for a new MRI [machine].''

A decade ago, ratios were crucial in bringing nurses back to Victoria's public health system after thousands of them were made redundant under the Kennett government. Now they have got ratios, nurses are determined to hold on to them. With patients becoming sicker as the population ages - perhaps with diabetes or a chronic lung disease in addition to the fractured hip that has brought them to hospital - nurses are pushing for the ratios to be improved. But every three years when their enterprise agreement comes up for renegotiation, they find themselves fighting simply to maintain the status quo.

Neurosurgical nurse Rachael Duncan tells, in Suzanne Gordon's book Nursing against the Odds, of routinely caring for 10 patients - four of them in a high-dependency area - at the Austin Hospital before ratios were introduced.

''You left work feeling like a wet rag. There was a very poor skill mix on the floor. A lot of casual nurses were making up the numbers. Nursing is always hard work, but you never got ahead, you were always chasing everything. You never felt like you'd done your job [and] everyone was stressed,'' she said.

Returning to work after maternity leave, following the introduction of ratios, Duncan said she would leave for the day feeling she had done her job well. In one instance she had to drop everything to stabilise a patient who had developed a life-threatening blood clot in the lung and rush him to intensive care. She returned two hours later to find her colleagues had given her other patients their medications, taken their vital signs and changed their dressings - something she says never happened before ratios.

Louise Gates, 26, did not work in the hospital system before ratios - but even with them, she found the workload high, the responsibility immense. After three years at university to qualify as a division one nurse, she left the profession after just 18 months. She says many of her friends did the same.

''For me, there wasn't enough incentive to stay in nursing. I didn't feel valued enough, and I didn't think the remuneration was adequate for the responsibilities nurses have,'' she says. ''You get home from a shift absolutely exhausted, and then you're on the very next morning, waking up at 5am.''

That said, there was much in the job that she enjoyed. ''There's great parts about nursing: you form such great friendships and have a sense of purpose. I definitely miss the daily interaction with patients, and the medical side of things.''

Not everyone is convinced that ratios are the answer. Monash University researcher Virginia Plummer, while agreeing that they have restored control to nurses and brought them back into the Victorian system, says that as patient care becomes more complex, a far more sophisticated approach is needed. She believes that computer systems that crunch data on peaks and troughs in clinical workloads (based on patient numbers and complexity), and roster nurses across a hospital accordingly, can save money, improve patient care and result in fairer workloads. But, for now, she says, in Victoria, ratios are ''absolutely entrenched''.

Plummer says Victoria was in ''dire straits'' in 2000 when nurses left the system in droves because they could not bear to see the quality of nursing deteriorate. The introduction of mandated ratios was so successful, she says, that nurses will reject anything that threatens that system. ''It made them come back… and it made them trust their workplace. We hope that in time other systems will be accepted. But it's not the right time. The memories are still there.''

Read more:

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


Asylum seeker Scrabble

Kerry Murphy.

November 07, 2011

Eureka Street

Last week there were three significant events affecting refugees including, tragically, more deaths.

Yet another detainee killed himself after a prolonged period in detention and while awaiting a security check. It has never been satisfactorily explained why these checks take so long. For more than 15 years, mental health professionals have been stating that prolonged detention can cause serious damage to a person's mental health. Yet the mandatory detention policy remains.

The second event was the passing of the Deterring People Smuggling Bill. The law ensures that a person convicted under people smuggling offences introduced in 1999 will not be able to claim that they did not commit an offence if the people they transported were later found to be refugees. The law was introduced into Parliament and passed within a day to defeat ongoing court proceedings.

Then there were more deaths at sea when another unseaworthy boat sank. The tragedy refuelled the debate about whether a Nauru or a Malaysia based 'solution' would more effectively 'stop the boats'.

The Government and Opposition will tighten the system when challenged, but refuse to accept that the flawed system of mandatory detention is in need of major reform.

The use of language in the debate is always striking. It has evolved and adapted over the years.

Previously, governments spoke of 'border protection' as a reason for mandatory detention and methods of deterring applicants who arrive by boat. Now the tactic is to speak about 'preventing deaths at sea'. However, the politics is still driven by a philosophy of border control. The human rights of asylum seekers and international obligations are secondary considerations.

In 2001 we had the 'Pacific Solution', which was a misnomer: it was not 'pacific', and warehoused refugees rather than providing a solution. We saw, too, the creation of 'excision', whereby islands formerly considered to be part of Australia were no longer so for the purposes of Migration Law.

The prize for legalese must go to 'offshore entry person', which is defined as a 'person who arrives at an excised place after the excision time and becomes an unlawful non-citizen'. Everyone who has arrived at Christmas Island since late September 2001 has been designated as such.
We now have 'offshore processing'. This, too, is a misnomer, when it is used for people held in Christmas Island or in detention in Australia itself — which is definitely 'onshore'.

The term 'offshore processing' was used in an attempt to pretend such cases were not subject to the same judicial scrutiny as 'onshore' cases. This fiction was destroyed in November 2010 when the High Court handed down its judgment in M61 & M69. All of the 'offshore processing' of 'offshore entry persons' was subject to judicial oversight, in a similar manner to onshore cases.

Then, in August 2011 the High Court scuttled the misnamed 'Malaysian solution'. Again, it was not a solution, but a system of refugee 'warehousing'. No 'processing' of cases by Australia is involved at all, so again it is wrong for this to be called 'offshore processing'.
Since this decision and the political impasse over Nauru or Malaysia, we now have the 'Australian solution' — the processing of applications in Australia.

Sometimes language is used to demonise refugees, such as the term 'queue jumper' which persists despite the fact there are no queues (acceptance into Australia's offshore system is more like a lucky dip). In other instances, the language has adapted to avoid pejorative or inaccurate terms; for example, the term 'illegals' is less common now (it is not an offence to arrive without a visa).

Whatever the language used, it does not change the fact that the arrival of small numbers of people claiming asylum from some of the most dangerous countries on the planet continues to prompt both major parties to turn community fear to political advantage, rather than acknowledge our duty as a global citizen to contribute to refugee resettlement without moving our responsibilities offshore.

Meanwhile, people will continue to be damaged by this flawed system.

Kerry Murphy is a partner with the specialist immigration law firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers. He is a student of Arabic, former Jesuit Refugee Service coordinator, teaches at ANU and was recognised by AFR best lawyers survey as one of Australia's top immigration lawyers.

Sunday, November 06, 2011


SMH, 6.11.11

David Sygall.

FOR Les Murray's parents, there was no queue to jump, immigration officer to plead with or process to follow. Nor was there a destination, other than to flee Hungary, where Soviet soldiers were crushing the 1956 uprising, in which his father had played a small but dangerous part.

Murray's parents, and the go-betweens who helped them cross the Austria-Hungary border one icy winter's night, risked everything to give their boys freedom. They succeeded.

It is why the demonisation of so-called people smugglers today prompts mixed feelings in the veteran broadcaster. He does not defend traders in misery. But he knows well that to escape persecution, smugglers are essential. Murray's smuggler, who he remembered only as Julius, remains his hero. In August, after 55 years, Murray sought to find him.

''When people discuss people smugglers, they often group together those who conduct the slave trade with those who legitimately help refugees,'' says Murray, born Laszlo ܨrge. ''One is despicable. The other has its dark side, too. But the point is, in order to successfully negotiate an escape through many dangers, you need help.''

About 200,000 people escaped Hungary in two months in 1956. Some smugglers expected payment. Others didn't. Murray's family was poor and perhaps offered some old jewellery. He remembers Julius as warm, caring and sympathetic. ''He held mine and my brother's hands across the border,'' he says. ''Then he kissed us all, turned around and disappeared. He told us which way to walk to an Austrian village and we were free. My people smuggler was always my hero.''

There was a haunting footnote. Another family, the Kereszteses, had conspired with the Murrays to escape, but their dash came unstuck. Imprinted on 11-year-old Murray's brain ever since is the image of two machinegun-carrying Soviet soldiers ushering them back. Until this year, Murray knew nothing of their fate. ''My parents had made inquiries but we got no information,'' he says.

When Murray went back to Hungary in August, he learnt that the parents of the Kereszteses had died. But, remarkably, he found Andor, the then four-year-old son. ''He told us the security police had interrogated his father, beat the crap out of him, then let him go,'' Murray says. ''That's what would have happened to my father if he'd been caught.''

Julius, Murray's smuggler hero, died in 2005. But he found his son, also Julius, and grandson, Balazs, who had known nothing of Julius's deeds. ''The reaction was immense pride and emotion. Finally I could thank Julius, thank him through his son and grandson,'' Murray says.

Read more:


SMH, 6.11.11.

Paul Bibby Courts

A PSYCHIATRIC patient who believed chiropractors could bring dead people back to life was not properly diagnosed or treated in the months before he fatally stabbed a nurse manager at a country hospital, a court has heard.

Matthew Peter Loughrey was a voluntary patient suffering from acute schizophrenia at Bloomfield Hospital in January when he walked into a ward and attacked 20-year-old junior nurse Stephanie Pritchard with a knife.

When Ms Pritchard's manager, Bob Fenwick, 63, intervened, Loughrey stabbed him several times in the chest and the arm, causing fatal injuries.

Advertisement: Story continues below Mr Loughrey, 33, has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder on the grounds of mental illness.

Yesterday, the NSW Supreme Court heard that Mr Loughrey had not been given a firm diagnosis while at Bloomfield, was placed on a low dose of anti-psychotic medication and placed in a low-supervision cottage.

''He was left to manage as best he could with the low level of supervision that this cottage provided,'' Justice Elizabeth Fullerton said.

''It does appear from the collective view of the psychiatrists [who assessed Mr Loughrey after the stabbing] that the accused wasn't properly or adequately diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia and his manifest behaviour on the day is explained by that confluence of factors.''

The trial, being heard by Justice Fullerton without a jury due to Mr Loughrey's mental state, heard that his behaviour had been increasingly disruptive before the attack.

He had attributed this to the reduced dose of medication he had been given. He was reportedly angry and unhappy at the level of treatment he was getting at Bloomfield.

Earlier, the court heard that he believed that his victim could be brought back to life by the local chiropractor, whom he thought was a witch doctor.

He was reported to have told police: ''I believe in chiropractors … I think they're witch doctors.''

''He believed people who he hurt wouldn't suffer, that they could be revived and not suffer any nasty injuries,'' Justice Fullerton said.

Ads by Google

Read more:

Saturday, November 05, 2011



Dear refugee supporter,

The government has been forced into a temporary suspension of offshore processing, but the situation of refugees in Australia is as desperate as ever. Last week's suicide of a Tamil asylum-seeker in Villawood – the sixth in detention since September 2010 – has highlighted the chilling human cost of the government's commitment to detention, a commitment that shows no signs of relenting. The harrowing recent 'Four Corners' expose of conditions in the detention network adds to the urgency with which we must demand change. In addition, this week's tragic drowning of eight asylum seekers off Indonesia has reignited calls from both sides of politics for offshore processing. The Malaysia option has been abandoned for now, but not forgotten. Both sides of politics have indicated that they will legislate to allow some form of offshore processing at the earliest political opportunity. (For more information on all these facts, see the press releases on the RAC website,

The ALP National Conference to be held at Darling Harbour in December provides an ideal opportunity to publicly call on the government to change its cruel and unnecessary policies. The Refugee Action Coalition is organizing a large demonstration outside the conference on December 4, already endorsed by ChilOut, Labor for Refugees, and several unions.

Please put this date in your diaries and join us to show the government and the ALP the support that exists for giving Australia the humane refugee policy that it, and refugees, have needed for so long.

Please circulate this message to friends and families, RSVP on Facebook, and download the rally poster and leaflet from the 'Resources' section of our website,

Nick Riemer (for RAC)

12pm Sunday December 4
Meet Sydney Town hall to march to the ALP conference at Darling harbour
End mandatory detention— Refugees are welcome
Not in Malaysia, not in Nauru— No offshore processing
Initial endorsements: Chilout, Refugee Action Coalition, Labor for Refugees (NSW), National Tertiary Education Union (NSW), Australian Services Union (NSW & ACT (Services))

Sunday, October 30, 2011


The Editor,

Whatever happened to the managers duty of care to their employees? The conscious decision to bury Property Reports because of the cost of repairing or replacing police accommodation can never be justified by the Nuremburg Defence, “I was only following orders.” This is the life , and health, and safety of police officers families at stake here!! If any member of these families is affected by asbestos, they could die agonising deaths. Apart from their duty of care, do these managers in the Police Service have no conscience?? Or do they reassure themselves that they will be long gone from their positions in 20 - 30 years time when members of the police officers’ families have developed asbestosis or mesothelioma? Thank heavens for the Police Association bringing all this to light. Who says unions are no longer relevant!

Jenny Haines

Trail of deceit as emails expose asbestos scandal

Eamonn Duff

October 30, 2011
AN INTERNAL email chain has exposed key police personnel who deliberately kept thousands of officers and their families in the dark about asbestos and other poisonous hazards in stations and houses across NSW.

Embarrassed by the biggest police scandal since the Wood royal commission in the 1990s, the force's chiefs instigated a witch-hunt, tracking all related emails, memos and hard-drive files.

The resulting report was never meant to be made public, but The Sun-Herald has obtained the document that identifies the former general manager of the Police Property Group, Emmanuel Varipatis, as the person ''largely responsible'' for the ''conscious decision'' to bury hundreds of safety audits that identified threats in police houses and stations.

But The Sun-Herald has already exposed an internal report that admitted the force had ''$0'' to fix more than 200 hazardous properties, work that would cost tens of millions of dollars.

Mr Varipatis said: ''I was just following orders.'' He said he withheld the safety audits because he was told to. ''I sought advice from our experts and I followed that advice. I couldn't open up the reports because there would have been an avalanche [of complaints].''

The Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, told a police budget estimates hearing in Parliament on Thursday he was unaware of the problem until he received a call while on annual leave in July.

''Can I say, in terms of my being advised, was I happy? No,'' Mr Scipione said. ''Have I indicated, if you like, that I am to the point where I actually apologised? Yes, I have. The requirements of legislation in NSW make it very clear. We should have been advising police officers … when it came to asbestos. We did not.''

Mr Varipatis has acknowledged a ''conscious decision'' was made to deliberately keep officers and their families in the dark about hundreds of stations and houses contaminated with lead and asbestos.

Mr Varipatis and other key figures were implicated in the cover-up after the Police Force conducted a covert internal investigation into the decision-making process.

The report uncovers a ''fundamental failure across all parties involved in the management of the Police Property Portfolio'' to ensure the workforce was briefed about the risks. It names Mr Varipatis as being ''largely responsible'' for withholding hundreds of risk assessments from concerned employees due to a concern they would be ''misinterpreted and misunderstood''.

IN ONE email exchange, the Police Safety Command director, Julie Wills, points to a legislative loophole which means the force is not technically required to disclose the full reports about hazardous police housing - because the homes were not regarded as workplace buildings.

Mr Varipatis replies: ''Many thanks Julie, you're a champion … I will stay firm on not releasing the reports. If down the track in 2012 the legislation makes the home the extended workplace, we will need to reassess.''

Both Mr Varipatis and Ms Wills have since left the police force.

Mr Varipatis, who holds a senior position at Fire and Rescue NSW, told The Sun-Herald on Friday: ''I was just following orders.

''There was a chain of command and the instructions I received from the NSW Police Safety Command was not to release the reports to the workforce because it would cause undue panic.

''I was told that in nearly every case, every report, there was no danger. You have to understand these reports are very technical and if you're not trained to know what they mean, it can cause undue stress. I sought advice from our experts and I followed that advice. I couldn't open up the reports because there would have been an avalanche.''

In 2008, the Police Force commissioned private consultants Coffey Environments to conduct a safety audit of almost 1300 properties across NSW. Nearly 48 per cent of houses and 52 per cent of stations are more than 40 years old.

That ageing portfolio is co-ordinated centrally through the NSW Police Property Group and, since 2006, it has been managed externally through a company called United Group Limited. When the Coffey inspection reports began to filter through in April 2008, the results were alarming. The Sydney Police Centre Firing Range received an A1 risk rating, as did the Firearms Registry at Murwillumbah.

Hundreds of police homes across the western region were also affected, but officers and their families were repeatedly denied access to the reports until their union uncovered them in August.

LAST week, The Sun-Herald received a copy of the internal investigation into the cover-up.

Commissioned by the Deputy Commissioner for Corporate Services, Catherine Burn, the document has yet to be seen by either the Police Minister, Michael Gallacher, or the NSW Police Association's executive committee. For the first time, a clear chronological picture has emerged of what went wrong.

On September 19, 2008, United Group's Patricia McCann emailed a colleague about the disturbing reports being received: ''I was asked by the Police Property Group to inform Coffey not to discuss the audit findings with any police personnel, as this could lead to IR issues.''

But by November of the same year, police officers were inundating the Police Property Group with formal written requests for the ''asbestos audit'' relating to their properties. Those requests were systematically declined and in a ''response report'' dated January 9, 2009, the Police Property Group's liaison officer, Alan Baines, stated: ''It is not policy or usual practice to provide a copy of this type of report to the workforce.''

On October 22, 2009, minutes from a meeting revealed 900 sites had by now been assessed with an estimated repair bill of $32 million.

Around the same time, Mr Varipatis exchanged several emails with senior police in Bathurst about a senior constable who had suddenly quit his job because of ''a chronic inability to provide safe housing conditions which has had direct health effects on my family, including drinking water, lead paint, heating and sewage''. In his resignation letter, the officer accused his employer of withholding ''numerous tests results'' despite his repeated requests for them.

By February 2010, the Coffey audits were complete. In all, 460 properties were found to contain asbestos, lead or both - and the repair bill had skyrocketed to $45 million.

Of those, 63 were deemed high risk and required up to $20 million to fix. When those findings were rolled into a NSW Property Portfolio Strategic Plan, a report that addresses funding options, it stated there was ''$0'' available to make 205 hazardous properties comply with safety standards.

On April 27, 2010, internal memos revealed that Portland policeman Scott Bolton had been waiting almost eight months to obtain the results from a site audit for potential lead paint hazards at his station. At one point, he was snubbed with the following line: ''PPG Policy is that all reports and results are to remain with UGL and the Property Group.''

Even after he threatened legal action, the Property Group still refused to forward him the full report, choosing instead to provide limited detail. He was told: ''no hazardous materials detected''. The claim, however, was wrong and contradicted United Group field manager Gary McDonald's email on March 15, 2010, which stated: ''5.2 per cent lead paint content'' identified.

BY MAY 3, 2010, Mr McDonald had handed all ''hazmat'' (hazardous materials) reports to the Property Group's Jared Watson and advised him, via email, that he would ''need to liaise with the general manager, Mr Varipatis, to find out if and how this info will be handled''.

In the same email chain, frustration had begun to show at United Group, where Patricia McCann vented her dismay to Mr McDonald about the police's ongoing stance to hide the crisis from its workforce. After having held several meetings with Police Property Group decision makers, Ms McCann: ''PPG have not got their heads around how they are going to deal with all the ignorant phone calls regarding asbestos and lead paint poisoning. Numerous meetings have been held … therefore the decision was made not to have them [the reports] on-site, until the NSWPF can properly educate their employees.''

With threats of legal action and dozens of complaints mounting, the Police Property Group faced a challenge. Would it reveal the truth? The answer was no. In a May 10 email exchange circulated among Police Property Group bosses, Julie Wills, director of Police Safety Command, told Mr Varipatis that, based on her interpretation of the Occupational Health & Safety regulations, he might not have to release the full ''hazmat'' reports to police employees, ''just all the information necessary''.

When Mr Varipatis was asked yesterday whether he wished he could have done things differently, he said: ''You've put me on the spot. The police minister has called for an Ombudsman's inquiry so I assume they are going to ring me eventually. I will tell my side of the story then.''

Read more:

Saturday, October 29, 2011


The Editor,

Industrial disputes are taking longer to resolve and involving many issues. There used to be a system of conciliation and arbitration until the Howard Government abolished it. Now, the same business and employer representatives who applauded the Howard Government, are whingeing they can’t get industrial disputes solved. Well suck on it I say! Be careful what you wish for!! Of course, the Howard Government plan for the abolition of centralised conciliation and arbitration was that it was supposed to take place in the context of disempowered unions, where workers and union members would do what they are told by their employers, and where the executives of companies could make decisions in their own interest with no questioning. Good on the unions for getting organised, and utilising the system to get the best outcome for their members.

Jenny Haines

Lenore Taylor, SMH.

29 October 2011

With unions, bosses and politicians in dispute, old laws and new agendas are being tested.

Air travel crippled by striking pilots, engineers and baggage handlers, angry scenes at the Qantas annual general meeting, rowdy protests by striking unionists on the ports, public servants and teachers downing pens - Australia's current industrial landscape looks like a montage of the most bitter workplace fights from decades past.

And, as always, the characters are anything but bland - the feisty Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce, the outspoken Transport Workers Union national secretary, Tony Sheldon - who also happens to be a candidate for the federal presidency of the ALP - and even veterans of earlier battles, such as stevedoring executive Chris Corrigan.

The only thing that has been missing from the daily dose of union claim and employer counter-claim is the politicians; no latter-day Bob Hawke taking on the pilots, no John Howard and Peter Reith helping to break union power on the wharves.

The Gillard government and the unions insist the lack of political engagement is because there is no systemic industrial problem at all.

They say the noise is coming from a large number of three-year industrial agreements in key sectors that happen to have come up for renegotiation at the same time, among them the agreements at the centre of the particularly bitter Qantas dispute.

And they claim the shouting is obscuring the facts, with figures showing industrial disputation at all-time lows.

Still smarting from the rout of Work Choices in 2007 and focused entirely on regaining power, the federal Coalition is only just tip-toeing back into the industrial relations fray that has historically been one of its defining issues.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, yesterday backed two conservative state premiers in demanding that the federal government intervene in the Qantas dispute, a course of action the Coalition's former minister and industrial relations crusader Peter Reith deplored as ''old thinking''.

But the Coalition isn't prepared to say much at all about what it would do in government, just that Labor should be doing more.

Employers insist emboldened unions are pushing the limits of the two-year-old Fair Work Act, using its powers to bargain harder and on new issues that strip away powers that managers need to run competitive businesses in a global economy.

Over time, that could have serious consequences for the economy, they say. And tourism and retail businesses, in the almost-stalled lane of the Australian economy are desperately worried.

Some observers say the corporate complaints are in part aimed at encouraging Tony Abbott's Coalition back to the barricades on industrial relations reform. But increasingly the costs and inconvenience are real.

In this latest chapter in Australian workplace law it seems everything is being tested: the new laws, the reach of the unions, the resolve of the employers, the patience of the government and the courage of the Coalition's ideological conviction.

The government and the unions have statistics on their side.

In the two years since the Fair Work Act took effect, an average of 3.6 working days have been lost per 1000 employees per quarter, compared with an average of 13.5 days per quarter over the Howard decade. Even the rise in disputes in the June quarter is lower than the rise three years ago when these same agreements were last up for renegotiation. Wages growth is not high, and the Reserve Bank says ''upward pressure on wages is tending to ease''.

''There was a slight uptick in disputation in the last quarter and there probably will be this quarter as well but disputation is still at historical lows … and I think the downward trend will continue,'' the Workplace Relations Minister, Senator Chris Evans, says.

But the Qantas dispute is worrying him. He says ''economic damage has already occurred'', that he and the Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, have been meeting regularly until recent days with the company and the unions and ''we are making it very clear that patience is wearing thin''.

''We have made it clear … the time has come for this matter to be resolved and the government will consider using its [intervention] power [under the Fair Work Act] if we think that is necessary,'' he says.

But he dismisses calls by Liberal Premiers Barry O'Farrell and Ted Baillieu for the government to immediately step in as ''a stunt'' and points out that government intervention does not guarantee resolution and is a step the Howard Government had also been very careful about taking. Besides, he says, the only lasting resolution is one genuinely reached by the parties.

In any event, Evans says, while the dispute is about the ''clash'' of Qantas's business plan and the unions' concerns about job security, it has nothing to do with the Fair Work Act or any broader industrial crisis.

But his critics are not claiming a crisis, just that we could be heading for one on current trends. And they think the ''clash'' at Qantas has a lot to do with Labor's new laws.

''We are not saying the nation's economy is about to grind to a halt,'' the chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Peter Anderson, says.

''There is certainly a cyclical element to this … but we are also seeing unions testing the boundaries and using the new laws to start making demands about how businesses are structured, whether contractors should be used, and that is particularly worrying from an economic point of view.''

The Qantas disputes (which began after the company announced it would cut 1000 jobs and increase expansion into Asia) are ''a direct pushback against corporate restructuring'' and the disputes on the waterfront are ''all about a company's right to organise domestic and foreign labour''.

''It adds to a drag on our productivity, directly through the industrial action and, of even greater concern, it feeds into the low levels of business confidence and consumer sentiment caused by the problems in Europe and the political uncertainty at home,'' Anderson says.

The University of Melbourne economist Professor Judith Sloan agrees ''you can't tell yet whether this is cyclical or a new trend'' but adds ''it's looking pretty ugly''.

''This is very union-friendly legislation … [the unions] are trying to go beyond the normal wages and conditions issues and insert themselves into management decisions, they call them job security issues which is a joke … it is often about restricting the use of contractors and labour hire firms and the like, which have all been non-allowable matters for a long time.''

The result, Sloan says, will be to shrink employment. ''It is absolute madness,'' she says.

But Adelaide University's Professor Andrew Stewart says ''almost none of the disputes has anything to do with the Fair Work legislation … these disputes are like the ones we have seen before and will see again''.

The competing views about what is going on and whether any fault lies with the legislation will be aired at an independent review of its effectiveness starting in January. Evans says it will be practical, rather than a ''rehash of ideological positions''.

The Coalition, cautiously, says it will also be guided by what it finds.

Having begun the year insisting it would make no change to the new laws, it was pushed by business leaders and some pointed interventions by Reith and some Liberals on the current backbench to shift to a position contemplating unspecified change ''within the architecture of the Fair Work Act''.

Unlike the government, the opposition spokesman for workplace relations, Senator Eric Abetz, does see some real, systemic problems.

''It does look like we are slipping back to where we were before the waterfront reforms …,'' he says.

''I do have some difficulty with unions trying to act as de facto business managers, telling companies when they can or can't employ contractors …

''That does not allow for the degree of flexibility that you need as a workplace waxes and wanes.

''Many businesses are concerned about the rate of industrial action that we are seeing and the unwillingness of trade union negotiators to talk about productivity. That needs to be addressed because we cannot afford wage increases above [inflation] without productivity trade-offs.''

And he says the Coalition also thinks ''the government should be looking at why the individual flexibility agreements allowed for under the act are not being taken up''.

Evans says he suspects the ''Coalition has made a decision that rather than formally return to individual work contracts they will try to amend the existing laws to achieve the same thing by another name''.

If he's right the new Coalition policy would be welcomed by Peter Anderson who says business intends to ''carry the argument'' that over time the new laws will have to change to re-establish individual contracts.

And according to Andrew Stewart, the task of ''carrying'' that argument to the ears of the Coalition is amplifying business's current industrial relations complaints.

''You have to understand the real audience the employer groups are targeting. Publicly they direct their comments to the government, but they know this review will not re-examine the foundations of the Fair Work Act and that these current disputes would be pretty much the same under the old laws. The real object of their lobbying efforts right now is the internal debate in the Liberal Party,'' he says.

''They had thought they had lost the debate for the forseeable future, but now they see the prospect of a Liberal Government … and the opportunity to rekindle the torch of industrial relations reform … the pragmatists within the Liberal Party are still holding sway but business is pushing as hard as they can to get the Liberals to adopt a more radical policy.''

The ACTU president, Ged Kearney, agrees. ''The employers are leaping at anything to say the Fair Work Act is not working,'' she says. ''That is not the case, this is a normal bargaining process, it is just mischief making.''

However, Sloan believes ongoing industrial disputes will strengthen the case for change.

''I think the Coalition should wait until the pendulum has swung and people realise what is going on,'' she says. ''They have no incentive to flesh out their agenda until much closer to an election …''

With the Qantas dispute dominating the headlines, there are both immediate economic and broader policy reasons for the government to try to steer it towards resolution.

Read more:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


SA Labor convention calls on Gillard government to permanently abandon people-swap

• by: Michael Owen
• From: The Australian
• October 23, 2011 6:35PM

THE South Australian ALP convention has called on the Gillard government to return to Labor's national platform and permanently abandon its Malaysian people-swap deal.

A motion passed unamended at the convention this weekend at Adelaide's Festival Centre that "directs the federal government to realign its immigration policies, consistent with the ALP's National Platform".

The motion said federal Labor was obliged to "treat people seeking our protection with dignity and in accordance with the core Australian principles of fairness and humanity".

"Protection claims made in Australia will be assessed by Australians on Australian territory. The assessment and review of protection claims must be independent and free from any political or diplomatic interference," the motion said.

"Labor recognises that people residing in the community should not be arbitrarily deprived of the right to work while their claim is being processed.

"Under Labor's policies, the presumption will be that persons will remain in the community while their immigration status is resolved: persons will be detained only if the need is established.

"Detention that is indefinite or otherwise arbitrary is not acceptable and the length and conditions of detention, including the appropriateness of both the accommodation and the services provided, would be subject to regular review.

"Detention in immigration detention centres is only to be used as a last resort and for the shortest practicable time."

Since the Malaysian deal fell over, the federal government has been forced to revert to onshore processing, a move immigration officials have warned could lead to as many as 600 people arriving by boat every month.

Two other motions related to immigration policy, slightly amended, were also passed by convention with little fuss.

A motion was amended to withdraw an expression of "disquiet with the failure of the federal Minister for Immigration to articulate a policy of compassion with regards to asylum-seekers who arrive in Australia by boat".

The amended motion passed with calls on Chris Bowen to set a mandatory detention limit of 30 days, after which asylum-seekers should be allowed to live and work in the community while their claims were processed.

The Adelaide Hills is home to the 400-bed low security Inverbrackie detention centre, used mainly for family groups seeking asylum.

ALP state president and federal MP Steve Georganas said in his opening address to the convention that a proper debate was required about immigration policy.

"Over the last decade it has been a difficult issue for the party to grapple with because of the varied and wide view both within the party and the community," Mr Georganas said.

"We need to have a full and frank discussion. Can I say, in the years that have gone by we have been successful in this area.

"Afterall, we successfully accepted over 100,000 Vietnamese refugees in the 70s and 80s, many of them landing on our shores as unauthorised boat arrivals seeking asylum. This is a discussion we must have."

New South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said the matter was an "incredibly difficult public policy issue".

"I think we should behave humanely to people who come to this country, but there are other issues at stake," he said.